Call witching what you will as it can be a controversial word. Some folks don’t like the word “witcher” either. Others relegate the practice of witching for water as bunk and trickery. Opting to express it as divining or dowsing is also used.
But let me ask whether you’ve ever heard of a “witcher” who searched for unmarked gravesites where human bodies are buried? I had a chance to speak with the widow of one such individual who passed away in July 2016. Have more than enough about this intriguing subject to fill an entire page. Have I piqued your curiosity appetite?
However, I have chosen to save a bit of space to invite gardeners and anyone who chooses, to enter for a chance to win a packet of tomato seeds. A dozen entries from those received by mail will be drawn for in early March. More further along about where to mail your entry.
I’m tipping my Tilley hat with a warm welcome that’s twice as wide as its brim and that’s a big hello — a great big hello and welcome — to this my first Grainews column for 2019.
Let’s get started
It all began after yours truly discovered a sort of junior-size headline in a Winnipeg newspaper dated Friday, May 27, 2011 that said: “Witcher knows where bodies buried.” The story was about a man named Jack Mavins, age 79 at the time, from Anola, Manitoba who used welding rods to search out and help locate unmarked graves and unknown burial sites “on windy hilltop cemeteries and vacant corners of old farmyards.” Yvonne, 83, his widow who still lives at Anola told me her husband did unmarked grave searches for 20 years and “we both looked after cemetery work for 10 years. As well, we did our own personal family history together for 25 years. It was a fun time producing three family history books. In addition to witching, my husband Jack was presented with a recognition medal award and a certificate from the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba in 2014 for all his long involvement in historical preservation and promotion.”
I learned from Yvonne that Jack discovered “if you hold one rod straight down over a grave pointing it toward the ground that it twisted one way for a man and the opposite way for a woman. This was confirmed time and again from graves that had identifying markers. We later learned that it also worked identically on unmarked graves without any identification.” Add to that, “he searched old records that often took a very long time to determine who was buried in an unmarked grave. My husband began this work when he was about age 55 or 57 and did it right through until he was 84. He used welding rods and said they were the best for finding gravesites. He was six feet tall and the long pointers on welding rods worked best for him for cemetery work, rather than short wire coat hangers.”
Yvonne confirmed that she can’t do witching and said, “I’ve tried it and it won’t work for me. My husband and two sons could do it but my daughter Janine and I couldn’t. It’s not just a male thing as there are other women who can do it. It’s just that my daughter and I can’t.” She then related the following experience. “We once had some kind of a professor who came along and said something like it’s all a fake and not for real. It can’t do this and can’t do that. He couldn’t witch at all so he went on and on that it’s a fake and not for real. It was just because he couldn’t do it. Some people can and some people can’t.” (See my explanation why, further along.)
Yvonne went on to mention that “experienced witchers with the gift can search and also find foundations, power lines and water lines leading into yards and buildings and of course underground water streams. It’s a very fascinating subject. My husband had requests from Saskatchewan and Alberta to do similar cemetery searches in those provinces with all expenses paid, but in his later years wasn’t able to do it.” Yvonne shared a brief account about a friend of theirs “who owned a piece of property considerably east of Anola and found a grave there. It was not uncommon nor unusual in early pioneer days in the late 1800s for a deceased family member to be buried on their own property.” Yvonne concluded that “no person can adequately explain this phenomenon; why it works at all for some people and not for others.”
Who can do it – who can’t? Water dowsing, divining, witching
These three words have interplayed back and forth for almost forever and a day but all are used in such a way that the end result means the same thing. You might be a dowser and not know it although somewhere in the annals of folklore it’s thought that only one person in 10 can do it. The remaining nine are often quick to accuse the one who has it of being a fake, that is to say, pretending to do something they really can’t. I, Ted, am aware of two dowsers locally here in my community.
In early pioneer Canada it was essential for homestead gardeners and farmers to know of a dowser (hopefully nearby) if they or someone else in the family didn’t have the capability. Dowsing is probably as old as our need for water. It’s an ability that certain people have that enables them to find underground sources of water. An experienced and well-thought-out dowser can not only determine where the water is but also its depth and volume. As for myself, I don’t know why some people can do it and others can’t, but shall mention further along how it is inherited. If you’ve ever watched nature programs on TV you may well be aware that during drought periods wild elephants and other animals in parts of Africa can smell a water hole many miles away. Perhaps an ability to dowse is an instinct from earlier times that has been passed on to humans in civilized society. Or, how about equating it to high levels of electrical energy in the human body? Even Albert Einstein was deeply interested in the entire phenomenon of dowsing. So how is it acquired or passed on today? Folklore offers this explanation on the subject. The preferred and apparently the most fascinating answer follows: “The power is inherited from mother to son and from father to daughter.” Tracking past recorded generations that produced dowsers appear to confirm this. Not everyone possesses this technique with an average of only one in 10 having it. That means 90 per cent can’t do it.
Wondering whether you’ve got some innate, inborn ability to be a dowser and locate a spot or area to dig a well or sink a sand point? Welding rods and coat hangers as working tools have already been mentioned earlier. There are reports of utensils and common tools also being used. Apart from aforesaid, a sturdy forked piece of willow tree branch is among the best known. Branches from apple trees have also been used. Size of thickness and length of branches vary and are chosen according to personal preference. Firmly grasp the branch by the tapered forks with palms facing up. Think of its design or shape as being similar to a two-tined metal or wooden kitchen utensil fork facing you. Rest your elbows against your hips. Point the tip of the branch straight ahead (that is forward) slightly elevated and hold firmly while walking slowly over the area to be dowsed. Concentrate entirely on what you’re doing and why. Don’t let your thoughts wander. When and if you pass over an underground water supply the end of your dowsing tool will suddenly be pulled downward to a vertical position. I recall seeing the pull so strong when my grandfather did it that the bark on his willow tree fork ruptured so badly that the branch was broken while he held it. Once the points of greatest pull are located while approaching from different directions, insert stake markers. The ideal location for water is considered to be at the middle of the placed stakes. This may sound easy-peasy and simple but really isn’t. It will, however, provide a reasonable indication whether or not you are a dowser.
Enter Ted’s tomato seed draws!
Had the good fortune to get a dozen tomato seed packets. I’ll be making 12 draws in early March so winners receive their packet of tomato seeds by mail in plenty of time to get them started indoors early. Their names will appear in the April 9 issue of Grainews. Shall let readers know tomato variety names in a future column. There’s value and enjoyment from interaction and communication through letter writing. Some of you may remember the days of fan club mail and others won’t. Send your name and mailing address plus any tips or comments you wish to share by Canada Post and mail to:
Singing Gardener tomato seed draws
Grainews, PO Box 9800,
Winnipeg, Man. R3C 3K7.